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Jessica is our 2016 Olympic Hopeful and Sarah is our 2012 Olympian in Weightlifting. We're setting out to be "Pretty Strong" and we encourage you to do the same.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Olympic Games Outfitting

In one of my first posts I remember discussing clothing but it was mainly about being a plus-sized athletes and the challenges that comes with it. Sometimes, regardless of your size, you forget about your size and you're just you. It's not a big deal until you do something and it almost feels impossible to fit in. I had a few of those moments in these past weeks of doing media summits and photo shoots.

Please don't interpret all I write as a complaint. It is merely a realization of the clothing in the fitness industry I feel need to be brought to light.

Before heading to NY for the P&G announcement, I had a photo shoot. We were supposed to wear white button up shirts. The woman's shirts that were provided were too small in the back and the shoulders. My only option was wearing a man's shirt. It was very ill fitting and I was feeling pretty self conscious about it. I hate not being able to wear a majority of woman's clothing. When I got to NY they had a different man's shirt for me to wear that was much better looking. I rolled the sleeves up and tried to look as feminine as possible.  My mother was the only mother there who hadn't a jacket like the other moms because there wasn't one provided in her size.

The following week I went to Dallas for a media summit. There were tons of interviews, photos, videos, and anything else media related you could think of. We were given a goodie bag with clothes we were supposed to wear. My team mate Holley and I both received woman's clothes in the largest sizes possible through Nike up to 3Xs as well as well as Ralph Lauren but their woman's clothes come only to an XL. We tried one shirt on after another with no success only to end up once again, in men's clothes.

In a previous shoot I did in Hollywood, I had the same issues but, I took a picture to show the difference between a men's XL and a woman's. Here lies a problem I see so frequently it's upsetting. How are both of these shirts an XL? What message are clothing companies saying to our women? Sometimes it feels like they are saying, "It's ok for men to be a certain size but, not you." Women are often forced to be in a certain size bracket or it's too bad so sad.

In Dallas, I remember meeting USAW's Nike rep and she said, "I specifically told them to put 3Xs in there for you guys." Well, they did but a woman's 3X is bogus. It's like a men's 1.5X almost a 2X.. I tried on a men's 2X jacket and it fit fine. Holley and I just wore men's clothes for our shoots.

There were two rooms at the media summit. A Nike room and a Ralph Lauren room. These rooms were basically there to give us a little preview of the clothes that were to be provided to us for the Games. Let me first say that, I am very thankful to be getting nice, new, clothes to represent the USA in. I mostly have concerns for what I am actually going to be able to wear.

In the Nike room, I saw a lot of clothes I would like to wear but, I know they will not have women's clothes in my size or if they are "my size" they will still be ill-fitting. Even though this is the case, I can still get away with wearing men's clothes and not feel too out of place.

In the Polo Ralph Lauren room, it was way more obvious to me the difficulties I will have. I was talking to a representative there and she ensured me that "Everything will fit. I promise. If it doesn't you can yell at me." If they do have women's clothes in sizes that will fit the plus sized women, I will be surprised and greatly pleased for them to have taken us into consideration.

If they don't however, have extended sizes, our options are extremely limited. The main reason is because the men's and women's clothes are very gender dominant. There are no unisex clothes or clothes that could work either way. A casual look they had for the women was a polo dress and the counter was a pair of men's shorts, and a sweater vest/shirt thing. If I can't fit into the dress, is my only option is the men's outfit? No thank you.

Even though, I have been promised to have clothes that fit, please notice the size differences between the men and women on their website for their Olympic Collection:

Polo Women's Sizes
Polo Men's Sizes

The women's sizes go up to an XL while the men's go to a 6X.

I am not alone in this. There are other larger women on the Olympic Team this year. There have been for many years now. I wish with that in mind, there would have been more consideration for us. All people who qualify for the Olympics and get outfitting should feel included, comfortable, and ready to shine. I am a woman. I want to look and feel like one. I want to fit in with my team mates.

Am I going to sit here and cry about it? No. What am I doing to make change? Every time I get to talk about body image or my blog, I jump on it even in interviews. I spoke with Nike and Polo representatives and mentioned the issues. If no one speaks up or just accepts what's been handed to them, positive change will not happen. I want future athletes to be happy, comfortable and included. I want the fashion industry to rethink their ideas of what a female athlete can look like.

I have entered Under Armour's, "What's Beautiful?" Contest. My goal is to redefine the female athlete by being the example. I want to show the fitness clothing industry that athletes come in all shapes and sizes. Women come in all shapes and sizes. Athletic clothes should be available to all of us.

 Please support me in my cause and follow me as I prove that "Beauty is Strength." Hopefully, If I am one of the finalists, or the winner, I can have an influence on Under Armour and other brands to rethink what they design and make is accessible to a broader range of women.

What's Beautiful Contest-My profile


akfarrell said...

Preach it, sister!

I'd always assumed the apparel for Olympic athletes was custom-made, at least for athletes who fall outside the manufacturer's normal size range. I hope that is what will happen for you. Worrying about finding clothes that fit is something I'm quite familiar with. It wastes precious time and energy. Olympians like you and Holley should not have to worry about that!

I'm also a bit cranky about the practice of having clothing sponsors who don't normally supply clothes that would fit the athletes. What if there were another clothing sponsor for sizes above -- whereever Nike and Ralph Lauren leave off? Would you feel comfortable if you had a different, but coordinating, outfit than the other athletes?

I realize the whole sponsorship thing is probably a lot more complicated than that, but wouldn't it be nice if your official wardrobe were supplied by someone who would also serve you if you walked in to a store off the street?

Sigh. You definitely hit a nerve with this one. Rest assured, you are inspiring no matter what you wear!

Marley B. said...

YES!!! You are such a great role model for us other plus sized female athletes (and women in general). I'll never be an Olympic caliber athlete, but for you to to be speak your mind and talk to the reps from Polo and Nike is absolutely essential. You have worked just as hard as every other athlete and deserve to wear the same outfits as every other member of the team. Thank you for standing up for what you believe in!

You are beautiful and I can't wait to root for you and the USA!

Unknown said...

I came here from reddit. I'm a larger woman who has had a TERRIBLE time finding good workout clothes. I custom order stuff and my options are always really limited. It's definitely impacted how much I work out or how often I go to the gym.

I really hope your visibility and voice will help change things!

Serendipity said...

I think you're in an amazing position to make a difference!

People assume that if a woman is big, she's unhealthy, or not really interested in fashion/how she looks. Please, please, PLEASE advertise the fact that you want to wear the women's clothes.

I mean, wearing the male outfits is totally fine. (And frankly, I'd probably prefer it) But it's entirely unfair that you couldn't wear one of the polo dresses if you felt like it.

Good luck, and keep fighting the good fight!

Kimberly H said...

I came here from facebook. Oh, please I hope you win. I am just sick and tired of not being able to go to a SPORTS STORE and find clothes to try on (even REI only goes up to a 16). My preferred mode of fitness is bicycling (give me an easy hour plus of exercise per day) and I can't just go get the mens bicycle shorts. They are padded differently. There is ONE site that sells plus size gear but I want to try it on before I buy it. Guys my size don't have that problem.

It's like if you are over a certain size and female the only sport you can participate in is walking. Such @#$@%E@!

TwisterB said...

You make an excellent point that men's clothes go up to a 6X but women's are usually just up to an XL.

However, the reason a men's XL is larger than a women's XL is because a men's medium is bigger than a women's medium. The Medium size is the size that the most people buy, considered "average". (The medium size today is larger that it used to be). Which means a men's average size is larger than a women's average size, which means all the mens sizes will be larger than the equivalent female size.

Most athletic companies don't make clothes for very short people either, especially because they do so much fancy tailoring these days.

Anonymous said...

Hey - might I suggest that you make friends with someone who's good with a thread and needle? A fabulous and generous gay guy? A warm hearted mom type? You pick.

That way you could wear the USA apparel that your peers are wearing and have it fit you. There must be a way to alter the mens' clothing so that it doesn't look like you're wearing men's clothing. It's a work around, yes, but for now it seems like that would be something immediate.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for addressing this! I don't think many "regular" sized people understand how much of a barrier properly fitting and comfortable workout clothing is. I don't think many people realize how inhibiting it can be to be self conscious of how your clothing fits or the dreaded "chub rub" of clothing that doesn't fit proportionally.

I noticed that all ten of Under Armour's "What's Beautful" finalists are very camera friendly ladies. Good for them, but if UA was truly interested in promoting something positive, this wouldn't be the case. If a third of Americans are obese, I would expect at least one of the finalists to be overweight. Good try, UA, but you seem to have missed the point.

Sarah Shah said...

Sarah, keep voicing that...make sure you say it on air during the interview. That public statement will put the pressure on them to make a change in the clothing they make available to you. If you get stuck in men's clothes, take them to a tailor and have them fit and "feminized" so they look like women's clothes and look good on you. If you find the tailor, I'll find the money for the tailoring.

I'm an image coach and work on this issue all the time...finding flattering clothes for women of all sizes. The landscape IS changing...but it takes strong brave women like you to make the public statements in a positive way and not settle. My contact info is on my website Please feel free to call me, I'm here to assist!

Cheering you on!! - Sarah

M said...

I strongly support you in all of your efforts to make this problem seen and heard! As someone that works in the software industry, I could have written a very similar post, sadly. I've received multiple items over my employment that we were supposed to be able to order in OUR size, but when it came down to it, none of them really fit me, so I ended up with the smallest size that fit on my body (often a men's size), but when you look at the item, it's large enough to accommodate my butt and hips, but the rest of my body is swimming in it. I know my company felt like they were doing something nice by providing these items to us in what they thought was a wide range of sizes, but when it comes down to it, it's clear the sizes were not created with various body types in mind. I don't prefer to compete, but I am still very active - swimming, biking, walking, hiking, yoga - and my body is what it is.

I exist, yet I sometimes seem to find proof that I don't exist in things like clothing stores (this is the feeling I get when I go shopping and return empty handed. An existential crisis of wondering whether or not I do exist in other people's eyes, which is kinda extreme I suppose, but it's due to a lifetime of this problem of not finding sizes that fit me.) In the past year I decided to learn to sew with a sewing machine, which is helpful and a challenge in itself, but at least I get clothes that can actually fit me out of it. That's a tall order to expect everyone to fill just because they are a large size though.

Becky said...

Sarah, you are an incredible inspiration to me and no doubt, millions of other women (who just don't know it yet). I can not believe that OLYMPIC ATHLETES are facing the SAME challenges I do when it comes to apparel. Case in point, I'm a size 26/28 currently and part of my fitness regime includes participating in 5ks and races like the Warrior Dash. In shirts, I am most comfortable in a 4x, but a stretchy 3x will do IN MENS. In the half dozen or so races I've participated in, only ONE, ONE race shirt came in an "extended size"...a 2x. I wan to be proud of my accomplishments and WEAR these shirts to show anyone that just because I'm big, doesn't mean I CAN'T do things that other, smaller people do. I guess I kind of expect it, since it's a totally amatuer, for fun kind of endeavor...but for you, Holley and the other, bigger, female athletes this is totally bogus and unacceptable! How can I help change this??

Becky said...

Sarah, you are an incredible inspiration to me and no doubt, millions of other women (who just don't know it yet). I can not believe that OLYMPIC ATHLETES are facing the SAME challenges I do when it comes to apparel. Case in point, I'm a size 26/28 currently and part of my fitness regime includes participating in 5ks and races like the Warrior Dash. In shirts, I am most comfortable in a 4x, but a stretchy 3x will do IN MENS. In the half dozen or so races I've participated in, only ONE, ONE race shirt came in an "extended size"...a 2x. I wan to be proud of my accomplishments and WEAR these shirts to show anyone that just because I'm big, doesn't mean I CAN'T do things that other, smaller people do. I guess I kind of expect it, since it's a totally amatuer, for fun kind of endeavor...but for you, Holley and the other, bigger, female athletes this is totally bogus and unacceptable! How can I help change this??

BeckyMc said...

I'd like to 2nd the coment about making friends with someone who sews. Reading your post I am so itching to get my hands on a couple of those women's shirts and make then into ONE WELL FITTING shirt just for you! Tell Ralph Lauren and Nike that if they can't make clothes in the proper size for a world class athlete, then they can issue you doubles or triples of everything and your friendly tailor/seamstress will correct their mistake!

tgt said...

I have to second TwisterB. Complaining that men's size [whatever] is larger than women's size [whatever] is silly and distracts from your important point: that female athletes are expected to be on the thinner end of female body sizes, while male athletes are not similarly typed.

Anonymous said...

A few ladies on here mentioned trouble finding workout wear. There is a great website that caters to sizes 14-40. The selection isn't amazing, and it is online only, but they have wicking fabrics and other important sportsy items in larger sizes. Not as great as walking out of Lulumon with your new yoga pants, but at least there is someone making active wear for us.

Good luck at the Olympics Sarah! You are awesome.

KarenX said...

As a person who has benefited greatly from knowing a person who sews, I still want to ask why the solution is for the athlete to have to pick up the slack for the sponsors. Why should she hide their oversight? If she goes out of her way to custom make clothes in someone else's design, everyone who sees her in those clothes is going to assume they were given to her. Advertising the oversight, and perhaps embarrassing manufacturers, is the best way to get them to correct it in the future.

Someone from Ralph Lauren ought to be offering to disassemble and rebuild clothes for her. That's my suggestion. Here's where you can email Ralph Lauren and suggest it directly to them; their phone number is 888-475-7674.

Anonymous said...

And how about shoes? I'm a 5'9'' woman, and I wear a men's size 9.5 EEEE shoe. I'd love to buy cute shoes off the women's shelf, instead of getting stuck with the men's ugly gray shoes. Thankfully, New Balance makes wide shoes, but I'd still prefer women's shoes to men's shoes.

DrtheDoctor said...

Thank you for posting this. As a short woman with broad shoulders and small breasts, I also have great difficulty finding clothing that actually fits me. I'm not very feminine so wearing boys clothing is an option I don't really mind anyway. Athletic clothing is less of a problem (except when I need long sleeves or pants) since it turns out I'm relatively boy shaped, but finding a professional looking suit for graduate school? No way. For my defense I gave up and went to the men's department. A little hemming here and there and it fit perfectly. If I was more female identified, I don't really know what I would do.

Anonymous said...

First of all, Sarah, you are so awesome! Came here from your Reddit AMA.

The state of plus size athleticwear is dismal indeed, and it really bothers me. One of the commenters below says that REI doesn't carry above a 16. They offer some clothes up to a 3x/24 but I wouldn't blame the poster for not knowing because REI has cut all reference to plus sizes from their mailers. They used to note when an item came in plus sizes in their mailers but stopped doing that. So unless you stumble across the plus sizes on their website or your local store carries the line and you happen to find where the plus size racks have been shuffled to this month, you wouldn't know. I've written them several times about all this to no avail.

How are women supposed to know what's available unless the availability of such items is communicated? How can companies say there is no market for plus sizes (which is always the excuse) if they aren't courting the market?

I am tired of excuses from clothing companies about this. I cycle, I hike, I do yoga, I go to the gym, I kayak, just like so many people who fit into regular sizes. My money is just as good as theirs.

Sarah, you are amazing and inspiring and any company should feel very proud to have you wear their clothing.

Johnna said...

Sarah! Cut that s!@# up!

Every time I'm forced to wear a horribly cut men's t-shirt, I take a pair of scissors to it. Seriously, it takes like 10 minutes max and you'll look great and feel so much better. Cut the collar off right where the stitches connect the collar to the shirt... then follow that line 1/2 inch down once more... and so on until it's as low as you'd like it to be. Then just take a baby doll shirt and match the seams of the sleeves to the sleeves of the crappy shirt and just cut it like a pattern. After a while you won't need the pattern-you'll be able to eyeball it. Maybe start with a shirt you don't care about so you can get the hang of it, but you can do it! It's so easy- I thought it was something cool other girls did, but after 2 shirts I had it down pat.

I support you hardcore all the way and just want you to know that you're not DOOMED to wearing uncomfortable, unfeminine t-shirts, even if that's all you have available. Fight back by cutting them up!

Good luck in the games! We're rooting for you! <3

Unknown said...

You are seriously my hero.

This is an issue I personally have been talking about with regular clothing and "geek" clothes - and to see that Olympians can't even get clothes to fit them is really disheartening for me. I hope that your cause is recognized! I wish you the best of luck, and I will share your post as much as I can!

Michelle said...

All we want for clothes is fit to our body and if it is not we know how it looks. So we pick up clothes depends on what our body structure it is. I am glad that I saw your blog and this was an exactly I am looking for. These clothes collections are simple but it looks fabulous. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Michelle | wholesale clothing

Unknown said...

Fitness apparels are helping a lot in playing sports and now a days this clothes are available for normal exercise too.
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